Dekker Dreyer (aka Phantom Astronaut) wants you to dream—or get as close to a dream-like state as possible. His new Virtual Reality (VR) album Lucid is an immersive visual virtual reality (VR) exploration into some of the darker corners of his mind. The experience evokes a mash-up of Twin Peaks and 2001 with a Sigur Ros soundtrack produced and remixed by Massive Attack.
Photo above: Phantom Astronaut/Dekker Dreyer
You’ll use your HTC Vive to explore five virtual reality dreamscapes set. From the depths of a radioactive bunker to vast snow-covered landscapes, Lucid stretches the limits of immersive music and storytelling to create a surreal fantasy experience.
Each of these segments is deeply personal to Dreyer and he’s using virtual reality to allow the audience to enter recreations of his own dream-world experiences and anxieties. Lucid is more about emotional storytelling than traditional narrative. It confronts themes of loss, self-destruction, and psycho-sexual anxiety. In the span of only a few years Dreyer lost eleven close friends and family members while having not started a family of my own. Lucid helped him to process some of those emotions.
Dreyer describes each of the segments:
Childhood’s End: “A wasteland inspired by my time in Iceland. A fox constantly follows you as you explore a massive landscape of fog and destroyed items like arcade cabinets and child’s toys.”
Darkweb Exclusion Zone: “An interpretation of toxic internet cultures and communities as a locked up soviet-era bunker reminiscent of Chernobyl. Each room holds secrets that illustrate the way we section of abhorrent behavior on digital islands like 8chan without truly confronting the underlying issues.”
Human Animal: “Trapped on a New York subway car with an imposing nude golem who follows you only to stop inches away from you each time. His proximity creates a deep visceral reaction that has been described as a ‘female gaze’ — causing the viewer to constantly evaluate if the proximity will lead to a violent encounter.”
The Raven: You find yourself on an island in a light snow where strange chanting cultists encourage you to indulge your violent nature by killing a golden child.
Wanderer: A visualization of my own depression and how I feel creating art. You find yourself in a hotel room with a video camera set up facing the bed where a box cutter sits next to a still-beating heart. Out of view from the camera, drug paraphernalia sit ready to be explored.
Because they’re so deeply personal, I wondered how would someone playing Lucid know what the “key” for lack of a better word would be, if they would understand the symbolism in each room. Dreyer, replied, “I didn’t want to create something that was easy to navigate. I wanted to make something that invited you to both explore and draw your own conclusions. For example, there’s a track in Lucid called ‘Dark Web Exclusion Zone.’ I created this kind of Russian bunker world that’s a metaphor for the worst parts of the internet and how they’re quarantined from the mainstream. Each room in the bunker represents a different aspect of that. Probably the most personally disturbing room has a dirty mattress and a teddy bear and camera next to a wall of data servers. It draws a pretty on-the-nose conclusion, but it forces people to confront how all of these kinds of scenarios are present online and they’re connected to each other. There are creatures and places in the worlds which have folkloric and mythological meanings. Lucid doesn’t force anyone to do anything, but it does invite you to question some of your own moral choices as you explore. If the audience is leaving the experience searching for meaning I think Lucid was successful.”
Dreyer also believes that music and VR go hand in hand. “I love VR in combination with music. All of the music is created by myself as Phantom Astronaut. I’ve been composing and recording my own scores for my touring experience shows with projection mapped rooms, augmented reality and holograms,” he says.
“Lucid,” he continues “was a natural progression of that.”
He argues that his music is so strongly tied to the visual experience of his shows that he wanted to both recreate that and heighten it by releasing a VR album. “I used to listen to albums in headphones and visualize worlds using my imagination. This kind of plays inside of that by creating universes that individual people can explore. It’s an intimate relationship between artist and audience. I’m inviting people into these dream worlds that were created at the same time as the music and letting them experience something from my own imagination.”
Dekker’s said in the past that VR isn’t gaming and it isn’t cinema. That it has the potential to be unique and separate. With more and more retailers and cruise liners looking to make their experience immersive I wonder if this where it’s all headed— and is this the most lucrative intersection for the genre. Dreyer says, “Art is communication using an emotional language and traditionally that communications happens in a filtered way. You look at painting. You listen to music. You watch a movie. If you turn your head or get distracted the spell is broken. Virtual Reality gives us the opportunity to build these inescapable universes that demand attention. You’re literally walking through spaces which demand attention, like stepping into someone else’s dream. That’s where the title Lucid comes from. As artists we’re able to use VR to build our own little Disney Worlds, but on a personal scale and with whatever kind of subject matter we want. Lucid tends to hover closer to psychedelic horror, but artists can build whatever type of world they want to share.”
Dreyer laments the heavy dominance of commercial ventures in VR, but ultimately conceded that the adoption of VR has been hindered “by the high price for the home consumer hardware on one hand, but on the other hand we’re living in a very safe era.”
“Large companies like big intellectual properties and established franchises and Oculus is owned by Facebook, which is the definition of a large company. The content restrictions put on creators by the Facebooks and Apples of the world is a big motivator for pushing creators away from the unusual, dark, or psychedelic,” he says.
Steam is really the only outlet that’s even entering projects which have mature content and they’re doing it in such a way where nudity or drug use or some of the things in Lucid should be categorized alongside pornography. Even Bjork’s new VR project is behind the same content restriction wall, so there’s definitely an incentive to create “family friendly” kinds of projects if an artist wants to not get lost in the online store ecosystem.
Speculating on why that is, Dekker anticipates my question and answers, “The video game ratings system isn’t really set up in a way that takes artistic merit into account. For example, you might have a very violent project with lots of gore that gets an “all-clear” but if you imply sexuality in a way that isn’t part of the mainstream straight titillation culture you’re kind of automatically flagged. I would suggest that there needs to be a separation of mature titles into categories that vary from what we would consider an R rating to NC-17 to pornography. As it currently stands you’re getting content that is pretty tame by art house cinema standards being stocked alongside Japanese sex simulator games.”
You can check out and buy Lucid on Steam here.
Watch the trailer below.